Germany faces largest E. coli outbreak since 2011

Since December, Germany has been up against its largest E. coli O157 outbreak in years. At least 30 people have become sick, resulting in the loss of one life.

The culprit? It’s believed to be ground or minced meat being sold at multiple stores within the country.

“Based on the investigations to date, we suspect packaged meat — beef and pork mixed — sold at one or several supermarket chains, as the most likely source,” investigators said.

Isolates from 14 cases, and a suspected 15th, have been shown to have a close relationship to the Shiga-toxin-producing E. coli O157 through molecular typing.

Thirteen of the cases, including the patient who died, involved hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), a condition caused when the abnormal destruction of red blood cells clogs the kidneys. HUS appears most prevalently in children, though it can affect anybody exposed to dangerous strains E. coli.

Cases have only been confirmed around Berlin and the northwestern part of the country. Those impacted range from 1 to 36 years old, and the gender split is even.

Investigators from the University of Munster and the Robert Koch Institute surveyed patients and found that minced beef and pork, Vienna-style sausages, yogurts and puddings were among the foods all had recently eaten. According to the survey, minced meat had been more frequently eaten among sick patients than by the non-sick control group surveyed.

The hunt for the exact source of the outbreak is on, but has yielded few answers so far. Food production sites that serve the implicated supermarkets were sampled and tested, but tests came back negative.

Bad memories

The outbreak is alarming to many in Germany, where the memory of a 2011 E. coli outbreak that killed 53 people is still fresh. It was the deadliest foodborne illness outbreak in recent history.

The strain that broke out in 2011 was the lesser-known E. coli O104:H4. Ultimately, around 4,000 individuals were infected, overwhelming German hospitals. Those who died primarily suffered kidney failure as a result of HUS.

The outbreak was eventually traced back to a batch of fenugreek seeds sourced from Egypt, which had been sold to some 50 companies in Germany.

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